Go Medieval: Explore Conwy and Caernarfon Castles in North Wales
Two of North Wales’ most impressive castles, Conwy and Caernarfon, are close by and both are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are two of the great sights in Wales. Travelers visiting North Wales will find dramatic landscapes, rugged castles and old-Welsh charm, all located within an area smaller than the state of Rhode Island. Enjoy the nice weather in Wales and takes in these beautiful castles.
One of the great sights in Wales, located on the North Welsh coast at the mouth of the River Conwy, Conwy Castle perches on a rocky outcrop 50 feet above the river’s boat-strewn estuary. The castle was commissioned by King Edward I of England in 1283, after his conquest of Wales.
Find a day with nice weather in Wales and head to the castle. Conwy Castle is compact, with eight hefty towers and two fortified gatehouses overlooking the small town of Conwy, population 4,000. For a panoramic view of the town and Conwy estuary, walk up the stairs inside one of the eight towers. Bringing the kids or grandkids along? They’ll love the Time Detective Trail, finding hidden clues to discover how Welsh rebels tricked their way into the castle in the 1400s.
One of the great sights in Wales, Conwy is also a medieval walled town and was established in the late 1200s at the same time as the castle. You and the kids can walk the town’s 30-feet high walls, still intact, which offer fine views of Conwy Estuary and the town.
For tasty and inexpensive fare try The Press Room, a pleasant cafe located near the castle’s entrance. Want to soak up more of Conwy’s old-Welsh charm? Book a room at the Castle Hotel, a renovated coaching inn that also dishes up excellent Welsh cuisine. If you’d prefer more casual lodging, reserve a charming room at the Glan Heulog Guest House , also in Conwy.
From Conwy, hope for good weather in Wales, head about 23 miles southwest on a winding two-lane highway along the coast to the southern end of the Menai Straits to reach Caernarfon Castle and the town of Caernarfon.
One of the famous sights in Wales, Caernarfon Castle is Edward I’s most ambitious castle, functioning not only as a fortified stronghold but also a royal palace and the seat of government in North Wales. Building began in 1283 AD and continued for another 50 years, but the castle was never completed. Its exterior is brawny yet regal, with unusual patterned stone walls, nine angular towers, and two fortified gatehouses.
Caernarfon is another medieval walled town built alongside its castle. With about twice the population of Conwy, much of the town now lies outside the walls. Like Conwy, the town walls are walkable and open to the public.
For traditional yet excellent pub fare in Caernarfon, try the Black Boy Inn , a renovated 15th century inn which epitomizes Caernarfon’s medieval-meets-modern feel. Travelers wishing to stay overnight can book one of the inn’s affordable rooms. If you’re looking for something more luxurious, try the Plas Dinas Country House, where Prince William popped in for dinner before his wedding. In addition to this, Caernarfon also celebrates another royal event. In July 1969, the town proudly watched as William’s father, Prince Charles, was formally invested as the 21st Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle.
Both Conwy and Caernarfon’s castles and town walls are managed by Cadw, a government-run organization that oversees Welsh historical sites. While admission is charged to visit both castles, you can walk the town walls for free. Both castles are open daily, year round. Current rates are available on Cadw’s website.
Standing on the town walls, visitors can imagine how these two castles looked 800 years ago with the stone whitewashed and King Edward’s flags snapping in the breeze. A visit to North Wales will bring travelers back many times, just hope for good weather in Wales.
Written by Guest Contributor Carrie Uffendal for EuropeUpClose.com
Carrie Uffindell is a historian and bookseller turned freelance writer. Her favorite travel adventures include sailing down the Nile in a faluka, horseback riding in the mountains of Northern California, and castle-hopping in Wales. In her spare time, she works on a mystery novel set in 13th century Wales.